How to keep your liquor licence healthy

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Michael Barry

MOP gives practical advice on how to keep a liquor licence clean, and avoid fines, convictions, or even losing the licence

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13 October 2008 | 0

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In respect of convictions, the recent introduction of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 has seen an increase in the fines applicable to a range of licensing offences and an increase in the minimum length of a temporary closure order for certain offences. This serves to remind licence-holders of the importance of trading responsibly, to ensure that their licences remain clean. One way to do this is to avoid the three most common offences:

  1. Convictions for the sale of alcohol to persons under the age of eighteen
  2. Convictions for the sale of alcohol during prohibited hours
  3. Failure to renew your licence promptly each year

Selling alcohol to minors

Section 31 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1988 (as amended) makes it an offence for the holder of a licence to sell or permit the sale of alcohol to anyone under the age of 18. This is a strict liability offence, with the exception that the only defence that may be accepted is that the person purchasing the alcohol produced a Garda National Age card.

It is also an offence to sell alcohol to someone who is 18 or over where that person then hands over the alcohol to a minor for consumption in any place other than a private residence. This is commonly referred to as secondary purchasing.
The Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 has increased the fines for such offences, with a potential fine of up to €3,000 for a first offence and up to €5,000 for a second or subsequent offence.

Furthermore, a ‘temporary closure order’ applies to a conviction for the sale of alcohol to a minor, and indeed to convictions for a number of other licensing offences. 

Selling alcohol during prohibited hours

It is an offence to sell or expose alcohol for sale outside of the permitted trading hours. The penalty for a first offence is a fine of up to €1,000 or in the case of a second or subsequent offence, a fine of up to €1,525. The permitted hours for off-licence sales in licensed premises are:

Sunday                        12.30 pm – 10.00 pm
Any other day             10.30 am – 10.00 pm
Saint Patrick’s Day    12.30 pm – 10.00 pm

Good Friday                Closed
Christmas Day            Closed     

Renewing your licence on time

Wine, spirit and beer off-licences expire on 30 September each year and must be renewed by way of application to the Revenue Commissioners. Licence-holders can sometimes be slow off the mark to renew their licences, but they should be aware that this involves the risk of prosecution for trading without a licence after the existing licence expires. In other words, a prudent retailer will lodge the renewal application with Revenue before 30 September each year. If a retailer has not done this, they should take steps to rectify the situation urgently.

Retailers should also note that the Revenue Commissioners can only renew a licence for the coming licensing year if a licence has been in force for the previous licensing year. If you failed to take out a licence for the previous licensing year, then you must apply to the courts to have the licence revived. This is a costly business and it also gives objectors a chance to object to the revival of the licence, so great care should be taken to renew licences promptly every year.

Trading without a licence is an offence under Section 7 of the Intoxicating Liquor (General) Act 1924. It is a particularly serious offence as your entire stock of alcohol could be confiscated. More worryingly still, if you are convicted of such an offence a second time your licence could be forfeited. This could conceivably happen if you fail to renew your licence promptly.

What do you need to do to renew your licence?

The Revenue Commissioners will require the following in order to renew a licence:

•    A completed renewal form. The renewal form is sent out to each licence-holder by Revenue towards the end of each licensing year. If you have not received your renewal from by mid-September in any year, you should contact Revenue to request the renewal form

•    A Tax Clearance Certificate, or simply a Tax Clearance Certificate registration number in certain Revenue districts, in the name of the licence-holder  

•    If the licence-holder is a limited liability company, the application must be accompanied by a Certificate of Incorporation of the company. The certificate must have been issued by the Registrar of Companies within the four weeks prior to submitting the renewal application

•    If the licence-holder is carrying on business under a trade name that is not exactly the same as the company or the individual holding the licence, the renewal application must be accompanied by a Certificate of Registration of Business Name under the Registration of Business Names Act, 196

•    The appropriate amount of Excise duty payable for the renewal of the licences, bearing in mind that a full off-licence comprises three separate licences, namely spirit, beer and wine. The duty payable for the renewal of any such licence has recently increased from €250 to €300 per licence, so that the duty payable on renewing a full off-licence is now €900

Closure, Endorsement, and how to avoid it? 

What is a Temporary Closure Order?

If you are convicted of selling alcohol to a minor or permitting secondary purchasing to take place, the court must make a temporary closure order in addition to any fine or endorsement. The Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 has increased the minimum closure period for a first offence; the entire premises or part there of will be closed for a period of (a) at least two days and up to seven days for a first offence and (b) between seven and thirty days for a second or subsequent offence.

If you run a dedicated off-licence shop or a shop which is devoted mainly to the sale of alcohol, it is even an offence, which carries a temporary closure order, to allow someone under the age of 18 to come into your shop without a guardian.
Your shop is considered not to be licensed for the sale of intoxicating liquor during the period of closure, so obviously, alcohol cannot be sold during that period. If your entire shop is licensed, then the Judge may choose to order the closure of the entire premises, so that during the closure, no trade whatsoever can be conducted.

A notice must also be placed in a conspicuous place on the exterior of the shop specifying the period of closure and also stating that the closure is in compliance with a Court Order. You are also required to honour your commitments to any employees working in the shop during the period. The law specifically states that no employee can be disadvantaged in his/her employment during the period of closure simply because of the closure order.

What is an endorsement and what are its consequences?

An endorsement is a conviction recorded against a licence. For many offences, a Judge has a discretion as to whether to endorse a licence or not. If a third endorsement is recorded against a licence when two endorsements already apply, the licence is forfeited and the premises ceases to be a licensed premises. This serves as a stark reminder that failing to trade responsibly and keep the licence clean can have a devastating effect on a licence-holder’s business.

How to guard against committing an offence?

The only effective way of doing this is by investing heavily in staff-training, as you are only as good as your weakest link. A list of guidelines for the service of alcohol to customers should be prepared, circulated and explained to staff. All staff should be obliged to undergo and sign off on training before being allowed to sell alcohol.

Regular training updates should also be given to all staff as there can often be a high turnover of staff in off-licences and convenience stores. We recommend that the manager of each shift should be required to remind all staff to ask for photographic proof of age at the beginning of each shift, as this keeps the issue live in their minds.

In preparing guidelines for staff the following key points should be stressed:

•    Nobody under the age of 18 can buy or sell alcohol

•    Anyone who looks under 23 should be asked for proof of age – it is better to decline a sale than to mistakenly sell to someone under 18

•    A current Garda national age card, passport, driver’s licence or European Union national identity card should be requested. No student cards or ID other than those should be accepted

•    If no acceptable ID is produced, decline the sale politely and request the customer to return with acceptable proof of age. If you encounter resistance stay calm and explain that under the law you are obliged to ask for proof of age

•    When serving a customer, a licence-holder or staff-member should ask themselves; what is this customer’s true age? Who is accompanying this customer ?(are there friends hanging around outside who appear to be under 18?) Does the quality or mix of products look suspicious? (Is a person seeking three naggins of spirits rather than a large bottle?)

•    Never accept payment from a minor for alcohol, even if they are accompanied by a parent or guardian. This is illegal even if the parent assures you that the alcohol is for them

•    It is illegal to allow alcohol bought in your premises to be consumed at any public place within 100 metres of your licensed premises, such as on any road or laneway near your shop

•    It is illegal to sell alcohol to people who are drunk.

 

 

© Matheson Ormsby Prentice 2008
The information in this article is not intended to provide, and does not constitute, legal or any other advice on any particular matter, and is provided for general information purposes only.
This legal update is compiled by Darragh McElligott from the Retail and Leisure Group of leading corporate law firm, Matheson Ormsby Prentice. The firm’s Retail and Leisure Group comprises lawyers who provide a one-stop shop designed to cater for every aspect of the retail and leisure business.
For more detailed legal advice please contact Darragh McElligott at Matheson Ormsby Prentice, Solicitors, 70 Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, Dublin 2, by telephone on 01 232 2000 or by email at darragh.mcelligott@mop.ie.
Further information on the firm is available at www.mop.ie

 

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